The Descendants Project awarded major grants; philanthropists & donors seek partnerships

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 1, 2022

WALLACE — The Descendants Project, a non-profit organization based in Wallace, was recently awarded several major grants to address the region’s most urgent issues while preserving the cultural assets that are threatened by industrialization and heavy industry.

The Rockefeller Family Foundation awarded The Descendants Project funding to establish an Ancestral Archeology Program and Unmarked Burial Grounds Center to potentially identify hundreds of unmarked burial grounds of the enslaved throughout the region. Identifying burial grounds and protecting the land align with the RFF’s mission to combat the pollution, destruction of land and threats to disenfranchised communities by the petrochemical industry. This funding is especially important to the Descendants Project, which seeks to identify potential unmarked burial grounds on the recently purchased property of Christopher James, a major investor in a proposed grain elevator project in Wallace.

The Solutions Project awarded The Descendants Project an initial grant to support the organization’s goals to fight heavy industry, to preserve the history and heritage of the Black descendant community, and to grow alternative restorative economies within the region known as “Cancer Alley.” The Solutions Project awarded additional funding to equip The Descendants Project headquarters with resources, infrastructure, generators and a potable water system to address community needs and emergencies immediately after major storms. 

The Bloomberg Foundation awarded funding to support staff and for the creation of a capital campaign to raise additional funds for the renovation and construction of The Descendant Project’s Headquarters, an original plantation house from 1806. Jo and Joy Banner descend from the inhabitants of the house, making it the only former plantation stewarded by African American descendants in this region. 

Plantation houses were centers of resistance for the African American community. According to Jo Banner, “Instead of perpetuating the violent narrative of plantation grandeur for slave owners, this space will instead serve the greater good and amplify the experience of the Black descendant community and the indigenous peoples who inhabited this land.” The house will soon be dedicated and renamed “Many Waters” as tribute to the Chitimacha, whose name translates to “The People of The Many Waters.”

“We are incredibly grateful to our donors for their generous support. More than anything, these donations prove that we have organizations that want us to live happy and healthy lives. We don’t have to settle for dangerous industries that degrade our beautiful communities and compromise our health,” said Joy Banner.

In addition to fighting against industrial development in the town of Wallace, The Descendants Project attended to the community’s urgent needs after Hurricane Ida. Hundreds of generous supporters donated resources for hurricane relief distributions throughout the region. The Descendants Project held four distributions, organized tarping, yard clean-up and provided emergency funds.

“We were dealing with our own recovery, but we wanted to make sure the community received the resources. Everything we do is out of love for our community and we have people all across the world that know and love our community, too,” Joy Banner said.